The campaign against new coal and gas in Victoria

The campaign against new coal and gas in Victoria. The story so far.

The most recent IPCC report, released in September, has for the first time endorsed the view of climate activists and scientists who have warned that countries cannot burn the world’s known reserves of fossil fuels without sending the climate system into a dangerous tailspin. We believe our best contribution to slowing climate change is to stop the further development of fossil fuel projects in Australia.

In August last year, a campaign launched by FoE and Quit Coal was able to achieve the first significant victory under the current Victorian government. The then Premier, Ted Baillieu, announced a moratorium on the process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and a ban on the use of the use of the dangerous BTEX chemicals in the gas drilling process.

While FoE has worked for many years against new coal developments in Victoria, the campaign against unconventional gas started in 2011, in response to a growing number of applications by companies to look for various gas sources, including coal seam gas (CSG), shale gas and Tight gas. Additionally there are a growing number of proposals for new uses for coal beyond just digging it up and burning it, including coal to gas projects.

If approved and developed, all of these projects will have significant negative impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and local land, water, farming and communities. The fossil fuel industry is well past its use by date, and we are doing our very best to make sure it does not get any further foot holds in Victoria.

For the past year we have been fortunate enough to be able to employ Ursula Alquier and Chloe Aldenhoven as community campaigners. They have worked closely with dozens of communities and thousands of individuals to build a strong community resistance to new fossil fuel proposals across the state. They have helped organise more than 50 public events in regional Victoria during 2013 and worked very closely with Seaspray, on the 90 Mile Beach, which became the second Victorian town to declare itself ‘gasfield free’, in mid 2013.

The cornerstone of our work has been the gasfield and coal free community organising model originally developed in northern NSW.

It now appears that community concern about new coal and gas projects remains so high that the government has decided to keep the moratorium in place until the 2014 state election. However, this will not make the governments problem go away, as more and more communities complete their local surveys, and start to make their own coal and gasfield free declarations. Political pressure on local MPs stays strong, and this continues to feed through to the Premier. As the campaign also broadens across into western Victoria, a considerable number of new electorates also come into the picture, which could play out badly for any Party choosing to ignore the issue in the build up to the November 2014 state election.

The following is a summary of some of our campaign work over the past few years to oppose new coal and gas. We have achieved some great results through working with regional communities, and with the support of our members. The next 12 months through to November 2014 will be even more significant, and provides us with a very real chance of stopping the planned expansion of the fossil fuel industry in Victoria.

2009
Working with a range of green groups, FoE campaigns successfully against new coal allocations proposed by the state government.

2010
FoE starts to track the approval of new unconventional gas exploration licenses across Victoria.

2011
We put CSG on the map in Victoria with the CSG Roadshow featuring Drew Hutton of the Lock the Gate Alliance.

FoE felt that the industry was less entrenched in western Victoria compared with Gippsland and would be easier to defeat, so we initially focused on applications to the west of Geelong.

FoE launched the call for a moratorium on CSG and unconventional gas development, pending a full and independent inquiry to determine whether the industry will be safe for land, water and communities.

Colac Otway becomes the first Council to come out against CSG and support the moratorium.

Federal MP Darren Cheeseman supports our call for a moratorium.

[Drew Hutton, on the roadshow, 2011]
 

Following the road show, a company withdraws 4 applications to explore for CSG in western Victoria.

Late 2011. The campaign refocuses on eastern VIC, supporting the Toongabbie community against a coal proposal put forward by Commonwealth, a subsidiary of Lakes Oil.

FoE and Quit Coal (QC) start to attend community meetings in Gippsland opposing new applications, speaking at many events and working behind the scenes with local groups.

2012

The resulting collaboration with local groups sees FoE and QC help facilitate the creation of the Gippsland Alliance, which brings together all the regional groups active against new coal and gas proposals on a regular basis.

We maintain a strong media profile as the ‘go to’ group on new gas operations in Victoria.

We maintained an active monitoring of the mining industry reform process and a critique of the EDIC ‘greenfields minerals development’ process in state parliament.

[Image: meeting at Briagolong]

QC starts to promote the ‘gas and coal free community’ model developed in northern NSW, whereby communities survey their locality with the question ‘do you support our community declaring itself coal/ gas free’?

FoE identified Lakes Oil as major player in the industry and through the Freedom of Information (FOI) process, discovered that Lakes had a fire at one of their previous flaring operations in Gippsland which resulted in a bushfire that was only stopped through the intervention of the local CFA.

[Image: locals confront Lakes Oil with their concerns, at their drill site at Seaspray]


FoE alerts the local community to planned CSG exploration in Corowa Shire, just north of the Murray River. The resulting community campaign causes the company to withdraw their proposal.

In autumn 2012, FoE/ QC formally launch an alliance calling for a moratorium on new coal and gas operations. This is supported by 70 community organisations and 6 local Councils. The Greens support the call, and the ALP supports the moratorium on gas, raising the issue in Parliament. The Coalition refuses to support the moratorium and votes against a proposal for a state-government inquiry into the possible impacts of this industry.

June: Councillors from South Gippsland Shire unanimously support a motion calling for a moratorium on coal seam gas (CSG) after a spirited community campaign.

August: After a strong community campaign in regional Victoria, the state government declares a ban on the use of dangerous BTEX chemicals in gas drilling and a moratorium on the process of fracking.

2013

We help establish Lock the Gate in Victoria.

We work closely with the community of Seaspray in their surveying process. Seaspray becomes the second Victorian community to declare itself gasfield free, in August 2013.

Inline image 2Throughout the year, we work with more than 14 communities who are concerned about new coal and gas proposals, helping to organise more than 50 community events across Gippsland.

[the human sign at Seaspray]

May. The Victorian government signs off on the National Harmonised Guidelines on gas production, which had been intended as the point at which the moratorium would be lifted. Yet the government maintains the ban because of sustained community hostility to new gas proposals.

June: QC and Friends of Mirboo North organise the ‘farmers and friends against fracking’ rally in Melbourne, which is supported by several hundred people.

August: FoE/QC start to replicate the organising model of the campaign – the coal and gas free community process - in western Victoria following community concerns about Tight and Shale gas exploration permits in a wide belt from Warrnambool to Geelong.

[above: Drouin South]

 

Our campaign has started to drive the state agenda on energy issues. The State coalition government made the announcement that the moratorium on fracking and the halt on the granting of new CSG licenses will continue until July 2015.  They have also committed to legislating the ban on the use of BTEX chemicals, and stated that: "We will never, ever allow onshore gas if it jeopardises our underground water, if it jeopardises our environment, and if it jeopardises our food and agriculture production."

We helped organise more than 20 ‘Coal and gas information evenings’ throughout Gippsland, featuring expert speakers from the Environment Defenders Office, The Australia Institute, Doctors for the Environment Australia and Monash University.

2014

There have now been eight community declaration events held – including the first one that covers coal, first one in the Latrobe Valley, and first one in western Victoria.

April: Protect the West Is established for groups active in western Victoria.

May. the state government announces a halt on all approvals processes for all onshore gas drilling until mid 2015. This is directly as a result of our campaign in conjunction with the community of Seaspray.

18 communities have declared themselves coal and/or gasfield free in Gippsland and 27 communities are now engaged in the campaign in western Victoria.

State election campaign. The Weekly Times declares unconventional gas as the second most important issue in regional Victoria in the build-up to the November election.

By the end of 2014, 44 communities in Victoria had declared themselves coal and/or gasfield free.

 

Please support our work

Chloe and Ursula are doing an incredible job. We desperately need your financial support to sustain and expand their work.

We also need to employ a community campaigner in western Victoria if we are going to replicate the successes already achieved in Gippsland.

This is good, old fashioned community organising work. It gets results. I hope you can help us in some way.

You can donate here. http://www.givenow.com.au/gippslandcoalgasfree

Please feel free to contact me if you would like further information: cam.walker@archive.foe.org.au, 0419 338 047

Further information here: http://quitcoal.org.au/portfolio/our-land-not-gasland/

[public meeting in Heyfield]